“I want a safe country… and also a moral country”

At some point between the anti-Zionist stereotype of the faceless, wantonly brutal IDF soldier on the one hand, and a tiny minority of refuseniks on the other, is where I think you will find most Israelis.

The New York Times has an account of a recent meeting in Jerusalem addressed by Mikhael Manekin, who served four years with the Golani infantry brigade in the West Bank.

Mr. Manekin and his colleagues spent a lot of their time at security checkpoints around Hebron and Nablus, controlling the movement of Palestinians to try to ensure that suicide bombers could not infiltrate Israeli cities. The checkpoints are part of a security network, including the separation barrier, that protects Israel, but also deeply inconveniences Palestinians who would never consider strapping on a bomb.

Mr. Manekin is the director of Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli combat soldiers and some current reservists, shocked at their own misconduct and that of others, who have gathered to collect their stories and bear witness. Since 2004, the group has collected testimonies from nearly 400 soldiers…

He spoke of how some soldiers humiliate or beat Palestinians to keep crowds in line and how soldiers are taught to be aggressive, but how most behave within decent moral limits — and of how the fear that hundreds of people could erupt in anger wears on the soul and turns young men callous.

“I don’t think this is a problem of the military,” he said. “It’s a problem of the society. We’re sending these kids in our name. And there has to be a space to talk of bad things. It’s not enough to say, ‘But there’s Palestinian terrorism,’ which there is, but that’s too easy.”

He felt conflicted whenever he went back into the army on reserve duty, he said. “I love my soldiers, and I’m a good officer,” he said. “But going back into that system is hard. Still, I see my future here and my children’s future. And I want a safe country, like everyone, and also a moral country.”

The point is that this dilemma– weighing the overriding need for security against a wish to be as humane as possible– is something large numbers of Israelis do worry about.

When similarly large numbers of Palestinians are publicly willing to express moral concerns about the behavior of their liberation fighters, perhaps peace will finally be at hand.

Update: It’s worth noting that in 2004 Israel’s Supreme Court ordered changes in the route of the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank to lessen the hardship on Palestinians. The court said:

This route has created such hardship for the local population that the state must find an alternative that may give less security but would harm the local population less.

So there are times when security– as vital as it is to Israel– does not override humanitarian concerns.